More Talk of ‘Consolidations’ As City’s Financial Woes Grow

LA MESA – Storm clouds continue to gather over the City of La Mesa finances as sales tax revenues and state budget woes threaten city services here and throughout California. At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, no specific cuts were made, but a close reading of a few key agenda items and a bit of interpretation gives a clear sense of where local leaders are going to be looking to remedy financial woes.

Mayor Art Madrid asked city staff to begin studying a number of cost cutting proposals, including consolidation of police dispatch services with other police agencies and asked whether the city can reduce future pension obligations by creating a “two tier’’ system in which new employees will be offered less lucrative packages than were granted current employees. Both those proposals tread closely to dangerous third rails of local politics – police services and union benefits. Still Madrid stopped short of discussing full police consolidation proposals as the city is pursuing with fire services and acknowledged that developing new benefit programs may require protracted bargaining with city unions.

“We are a small city,’’ Madrid said. “We don’t print money. We have to live with what we have and these days, things are getting more than tight.’’

The council did reject, by a 3-2 vote, a proposal by Councilman Ernest Ewin to require a longer period for public comment on agreements between the council and the city’s unions during upcoming contract negotiations.

Some residents had complained that too much of the negotiation process happens behind closed doors and then is quickly rushed onto the council agenda and approved without enough public input. Madrid joined Ewin in supporting a longer public comment period, but the majority supported the status quo, pointing out that much of the negotiation process is executed with the council members representing the public interest. The ability to change any agreement after a memorandum of understanding is reached between the council and the unions is limited, regardless of the public comment the agreement may engender.
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On a lighter issue, the council voted 5-0 to give at least a temporary reprieve for the planters that line the sidewalks of downtown’s La Mesa Boulevard.

The city’s Parking Commission had recommended removing the planters because the La Mesa Village Merchants’ Association had reneged on a long-held agreement to maintain the 44 concrete pots. Citing financial challenges, the association had discontinued paying a gardener to maintain the planters and had asked the Parking Commission to use parking funds to pay for the service.

However, in the time since the proposal to remove the planters was made, merchants and city officials say many of the derelict planters had sprung to life.

No one knew whether to credit the recent rains or increased volunteering by the downtown merchants, but all agreed the planters haven’t looked this good in years. The council agreed to leave the planters as long as they are continuing to be maintained. Eventually, the planters will be replaced during a planned renovation of the downtown commercial corridor over the next 12 to 24 months, city staff said.

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Tags: City Council meeting, Downtown La Mesa Blvd., Government, La Mesa Village Merchants Association, Mayor Art Madrid

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Comment by Kevin G George on April 16, 2010 at 12:19pm
Thanks for that Ernie and all the good work you and the Mayor are doing to increase the transparency of the union negotiations .
I attended about half of the first workshop but couldn't stay for the whole time because I have a business to run . You are exactly right about having the workshops at times convenient to the Citizens rather than the Council and staff .
Keep up the good work .
Comment by Ernest Ewin on April 16, 2010 at 9:16am
Did anyone look at 4/13/10 Council Agenda item #15?
It was not reported on.
Although it was not an action item, the intent is to continue to raise issues and draw attention to key financial impacts to the city as the budget development process moves forward....I have been raising the total compensation disclosures for years. Going back to the first Council meeting of 2010 I have proposed additional transparency efforts. What has happened to those??? So where are the rest of the concerned Citizens??? 3 folks at the budget workshop does not work...nor does holding workshops at a time convient to staff not the working public...Time to speak out AND call out the elected officials who are "business as usual" or say one thing but promote another ... E
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on April 14, 2010 at 4:59pm
Good try, Phil. But here is the source of your misunderstanding: as a mere "dumb engineer" you are forced to assume that the numbers you employ--i.e., for buildings, bridges, boats, etc.--actually mean something. Politicians, on the other hand, generally operate on the assumption that numbers are primarily a rhetorical tool to be used for purposes impressing constituents and getting reelected.
Comment by Phil Sluder on April 14, 2010 at 3:51pm
I'm just a dumb engineer, but this post is a perfect example of what I don't understand about La Mesa's situation. The Mayor is looking for ways to cut spending and live within our means. This is very good.

But in the last paragraph it is stated "Eventually, the planters will be replaced during a planned renovation of the downtown commercial corridor over the next 12 to 24 months..." That's what I don't get. Why do we proceed with projects like downtown renovations, libraries, post offices, police and fire stations when we could save the funds and live within our means.

I know we all WANT a nice new downtown, but is now the right time to continue forward with plans like this? I know there are all kinds of proposals in place, a lot of work has been put into the renovation project by a lot of dedicated folks, and possibly contracts already in place. But given our future budget unknowns should we consider putting this project off until more prosperous times?
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on April 14, 2010 at 11:29am
Kudos to the City--and Russell Buckley, too!--for helping La Mesa take the first steps toward fiscal responsibility. On every level--Federal, State, & municipal--government is being bankrupted by runaway pension costs. Maybe we can't do anything about Sacramento and Washington, but surely that's no excuse to follow their poor example. Good work.
And thanks also to parking commissioner Laura Lothian for fighting for our flowers. Her stand will not only help keep our Village beautiful, (...and believe me, we need all the help we can get!) but also takes some of the hot air out of blowhard commissioner Jim Wieboldt's puffed-up ego. Again, solid work!

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